At Higher Grounds, we believe that supporting the people behind each cup of coffee doesn’t just improve sustainability along the supply chain – it also leads to higher quality in the cup.
Our Director of Coffee, Jennifer Yeatts, says: “Truly sustainable coffee is not solely about the plant, it’s about the humans and their wellbeing. Similarly, truly high-quality coffee is not solely about the cup score, it must also be linked to the quality of life of the humans producing it.”
For us, this sentiment is best represented in our Apex Series. These coffees are distinctive, delicious, and above all else, sustainable. Read on to learn more about the Apex coffees we currently have in stock, and where they come from.
Meet the Apex Series
Our Apex Series features 100% organic coffee, for which we pay farmers well above Fair Trade prices. And while our philosophy of building long-term relationships with coffee producers underpins every single coffee we offer, each offering in the Apex Series tells a unique story about the producers behind the cup.
Meet Miriam Perez (aka Betty), a coffee producer in Marcala, Honduras. Betty doesn’t just produce consistently outstanding coffees, however. She is also a longstanding advocate of women in leadership positions through COMSA, the co-operative she is a member of.
Over the last few years, we have bought large volumes from COMSA on a regular basis. Thanks to their dedicated microlot program, farmer members of COMSA have been supported to separate, process, and sell their higher-quality coffees individually.
Our most recent coffee from Betty is a washed coffee, with mellow acidity and notes of caramel and orange cream.
“COMSA has built an amazing system for guiding farmers through this process,” Jennifer explains. “It provides the infrastructure and support for individual producers to dive deeper into the quality of their own coffee, receive detailed assessments from COMSA’s quality team, and ultimately access buyers who are happy to pay higher prices for top quality microlots.”
Betty is one of these individual producers. Along with her husband, Rodolfo Penalba, the General Manager at COMSA, she has been able to share her experience and resources with the rest of the COMSA community.
COMSA is also committed to using organic agricultural practices and driving long-term environmental sustainability. The initiatives the co-operative supports include composting programs, recycling wastewater for irrigation, and preserving biodiversity on coffee farms.
Our Huabal coffee comes from the CENFROCAFE co-operative in the Cajamarca region of northern Peru. Founded in 1999, the co-operative serves more than 2,000 farmer members, supporting them through technical assistance, quality control workshops, leadership training, short-term credit options, marketing, and more.
The co-operative’s activities have also supported farmers to collectively develop best practices for healthier plants and increased yields. The results have been impressive. On average, CENFROCAFE members yield 20 quintals (100lb sacks of parchment) of organic coffee per hectare. Cup quality is also on the rise; some coffees from the CENFROCAFE co-operative have made it to the finals of both national and international quality competitions.
Through this increased focus on quality, CENFROCAFE members in Huabal have in turn increased their revenue. As a result, many now have the means to improve their quality of life through greater access to healthcare and education.
Anselmo Huaman is a founding member of CENFROCAFE and the former president of the co-operative’s Board of Directors. He says: “A huge difference in our lives is that now our children can actually go to school, our coffee is being recognized in the market for the quality we produce, we are receiving a fair price for our efforts, and our members can be proud again to be farmers.”
Our Huabal coffee is honey processed, with delicate, floral acidity, an elegant body, and notes of cherry, honey, and tropical fruit.
The Negele Gorbitu co-operative has over 500 farmer members
This coffee is particularly special to us, as it represents a longstanding relationship between Cooperative Coffees and the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (OCFCU).
The OCFCU is a co-operative union owned by smallholder coffee growers. In 1999, it was established by 34 co-operatives comprising some 22,691 farmers. Today, the union’s members include more than 405 co-operatives, which are collectively made up of more than 400,000 producers. It is dedicated to promoting environmental conservation efforts, gender equity, and social justice across its producing communities.
Back in 2002, Cooperative Coffees purchased the very first Fair Trade organic coffee contract in Ethiopia through the OCFCU. This was the first time that this coffee had entered the US market, and Cooperative Coffees was the first foreign importer to visit and meet with the farmers behind it.
Since then, we have purchased both large and small lots from the OCFCU, the most recent being from Negele Gorbitu. This co-operative is a member of the union, and is located on the border between the Oromia and Yirgacheffe regions. Our Apex Negele Gorbitu washed coffee is juicy, with notes of lemongrass, cacao, and bergamot.
Further, we work with partner nonprofits (such as On the Ground) on development work in some of the communities where we purchase coffee. In OCFCU partner communities, spearheaded by Run Across Ethiopia which raised over $250,000, On the Ground's Project Ethiopia built two schools and a library to support an educational future for farming families. The Ethiopian government now runs those schools. (Learn more about Run Across Ethiopia and check out some videos here!)
Roaster members and staff of Cooperative Coffees during our 2019 visit to COMSA
As you can see, our Apex Series doesn’t just offer Higher Grounds customers outstanding flavors; each coffee also has a story of its own to tell. These coffees all balance quality and sustainability, showing how the two can go hand-in-hand at origin.
Ultimately, whether it’s through organic farming practices or improved access to education opportunities, one thing remains clear. With a collective focus on quality and sustainability, farmers are able to improve their quality of life and drive positive impact in their wider communities. At Higher Grounds, we’re happy to have the opportunity to work with such an exceptional range of coffee producers, and will continue offering delicious Apex coffees for years to come.